Searching for Pictographs (Dinghy Anthropology)

Village Islands area

Sunset over Goat Island (near Berry Island)

We admit it, we like to make fun of the way several Europeans we know carry out anthropological investigations.  (No names will be mentioned.) They seem to believe that they are immersing themselves in the history of First Nations’ cultures by reading a book or visiting a “cultural” exhibit.  We call this “doing Frrrench antropologie.”

Then, as we were preparing for this voyage—reading various cruising guides and accounts of First Nations’ lives on this coast in the Salish Sea—we realized that we might also be thus charged. Our excursion to see the various ruins at Mamalilaculla did not disabuse us of this realization.

Not a pictograph

Red markings on rock (not a pictograph)

Undaunted (and in this, also quite like our European friends), all three of us, Marike, Karin and Elisabeth, set off in our dinghy to explore the north shore of Berry Island.  There, by an indentation known as “the chief’s bathtub” (we can’t make this stuff up), there was reputed to be a pictograph on a rock face.

We nosed into each little cove and indentation, pointing our cameras at anything colourful on any rock, whether algae, moss or a stripe of quartz. “Is that it?” “No?”  “What about this?”


Young buck on Berry Island (also not a pictograph)

No, definitely not. That’s a deer.

We didn’t really expect to find anything at all—perhaps some marks we might construe as an intentional artwork if we worked at it.

Then, as we nosed along, chilly in the northwest wind and chop, we saw an indentation that did indeed look a bit like a bathtub, a hollowed-out bowl in the rock wall.  We imagined it might fill at high tide, warm in the sun, and serve as a welcome bathing spot for someone—a bird perhaps, or an otter, even a full-grown person. And there beside it was the pictograph!

Chief's bathtub

The “Chief’s Bathtub”

It was very clearly a face—heart shaped brow, almond eyes and whoosh of a toothy mouth in a faded but distinctly rusty red.

Berry Island pictograph

The pictograph (a face)

These islands have been inhabited for more than 10,000 years.  How old was this painting in berry juice? (Was it really in berry juice? Why did we think that?) Did it date from the early 20th century, when Kwakwaka’wakw people still lived in winter villages on many of the nearby islands, or was it older than that? We’d have to do some more “Frrrench antropologie” to discover that.

But the thrill of discovering some kind of evidence of a real living culture that preceded us—a person made that!–on a real rock in a real place remained with us.  And there we have it—dinghy anthropology.

About Karin Cope

Karin Cope lives on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia. She is a poet, sailor, photographer, scholar, rural activist, blogger and an Associate Professor at NSCAD University. Her publications include Passionate Collaborations: Learning to Live with Gertrude Stein, a poetry collection entitled What we're doing to stay afloat, and, since 2009, a photo/poetry blog entitled Visible Poetry: Aesthetic Acts in Progress. Over the course of the last decade, with her partner and collaborator Marike Finlay, Cope has sailed to and conducted fieldwork in a number of remote or marginal coastal communities in British Columbia and Mexico. Their joint writings range from activist journalism and travel and policy documents, to an illustrated popular material history of the Lunenburg Foundry entitled Casting a Legend, as well as their ongoing west coast travel blog, West By East.
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1 Response to Searching for Pictographs (Dinghy Anthropology)

  1. ken says:

    amazing capture of, “Sunset over Goat Island”

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